[ Manila Bulletin Online ] September 12, 2008
By REY G. PANALIGAN
Should a trial court grant a petition for reconstitution of a lost or destroyed certificate of land title on the basis of a tax declaration, survey plan, and technical description presented by the supposed landowner?
"No," said the Supreme Court (SC) as it cautioned trial courts "against the hasty and reckless grant of petitions for reconstitution."
In a decision written by Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, the SC said that a tax declaration is executed for taxation purposes only, is prepared by the alleged owner himself, and is not a reliable source for the reconstitution of a certificate of land title. Justices Consuelo Ynares Santiago, Ma. Alicia Austria Martinez, Minita V. Chico Nazario, and Ruben T. Reyes of the SC’s third division concurred in the decision.
It said that a survey plan and technical description are merely additional documents that should accompany the petition for reconstitution and that previous SC decisions ruled that "reconstitution based on a survey plan and technical description is void for lack of factual support."
It stressed that possession or claim of ownership is not an issue in a reconstitution proceeding. "A reconstitution of title does not pass upon the ownership of the land covered by the lost or destroyed title, but merely determines whether a re-issuance of such title is proper," it said.
The SC pointed out that if a petition for reconstitution is denied for lack of sufficient basis, the petitioner’s remedy is "to file an application for confirmation of his title under the provisions of the Land Registration Act, if he is in fact the lawful owner."
With the ruling, the SC granted the petition of the government as it reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) that upheld the order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro in 2000 granting the petition for reconstitution filed by Dominador Santua in 1999 for his supposed 3,306-square meters of land in Victoria.
In his petition for reconstitution, Santua claimed that the original copy of his land title was among those destroyed when a fire gutted the Oriental Mindoro capitol building in 1977, while his owner’s duplicate copy was lost when his house was leveled to the ground by an Intensity 7 earthquake in 1977 and could not be retrieved despite diligent efforts.